1. Neptune Oyster
This one’s a titan. A huge, buttery grilled brioche bun spills over with red-fleshed lobster bounty. Whole pieces of tail, knuckle, and claw meat emerge from the split-top bun’s horizon like some sort of naked lobster uprising. Purists can order the cold version (tossed with mayo), while those seeking wild decadence can get theirs “Connecticut-style”—hot and dripping with clarified butter. A golden stack of fries accompanies the roll, but you may be too corked on lobster to even make a dent in the crispy spuds. 63 Salem St., Boston (617-742-3474; neptuneoyster.com)
2. B & G Oysters Ltd.
While chef/owner Barbara Lynch has the talent to deconstruct, reconstruct, and super-collide ingredients into haute cuisine, she shows the utmost restraint with her version of the lobster roll. Hunks of flawlessly cooked claw and tail meat are tossed with a judicious amount of mayo, a precious brunoise of celery, and a smattering of chives. The seasoning levels are pitch perfect, of course, and the roll is accompanied by hand-cut fries, house-made pickles, and slaw. 550 Tremont St., Boston (617-423-0550; bandgoysters.com)
3. Yankee Lobster Fish Market
You just know this roll’s got be great: Yankee is the retail outlet of a family-run lobster business that’s been around for more than 50 years. I think it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about lobster rolls…and they do. Theirs is very traditional and simply all about the meat. Supremely fresh lobster is bound by they tiniest amount of mayo and piled into a lightly toasted split-top. 300 Northern Ave., Boston (617-345-9799; yankeelobstercompany.com)
4. Alive and Kicking Lobsters
Don’t ask for a lobster roll here. You’ll get an earful from the lively counter help about how lobster meat deserves better than a hot dog bun. Instead, ask for the lobster sandwich, a specialty of this hidden neighborhood lobster pound in Cambridge. The place bucks tradition by serving the classic lobster salad on toasted and buttered scali bread—an airy, artisanal Italian loaf popular in Boston. Albeit a bit heretical, the scali adds a welcome (and frankly addictive) crunch, making you forget all about the usual split-top vessel. 269 Putnam Ave., Cambridge, MA (617-876-0451)
5. LTK Bar and Kitchen
Before I say anything, I should point out this place is a one-location offshoot of the chain restaurant, Legal Seafood (LTK stands for Legal Test Kitchen). And while I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend chain food, the lobster roll at LTK is totally boss. For starters, it’s packed with nearly half a pound of fresh, sweet lobster (which could’ve easily crawled across the street from Boston’s commercial fish pier). Presented on a perfectly toasted brioche roll, big pieces of meat don a vibrant celery-flavored mayo and mingle with sliced scallions. House-made chips and coleslaw round out the plate. 225 Northern Ave., Boston (617-330-7430; ltkbarandkitchen.com)
6. Great Bay
After finishing a recent renovation and menu overhaul, chef/co-owner Michael Schlow thankfully decided to leave his jazzed-up lobster roll in rotation. Without straying too far from the basic framework—toasted split-top and cold lobster salad—Schlow layers in silky avocado and tops his roll with pickled shallots. The avocado adds creamy complexity, while the shallots are a great counterpoint to the richness of the lobster salad and avocado. 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston (617-532-5300; gbayrestaurant.com)
7. Jasper White’s Summer Shack
New England seafood guru Jasper White offers up a classic roll in his outdoor-lobster-pound-indoors restaurant. So pull up a picnic table and get ready for a properly griddled bun crammed with the meat from a 1 1/4-pound lobster (as stated on the menu). A touch of mayo and the crunch of minced celery complement this straightforward roll, and no doubt White’s using the freshest lobster meat: The large aqua tanks on display, feet away from your table, are splashing with hundreds of the coldwater crustaceans awaiting their turn at culinary greatness. 149 Alewife Brook Pkwy., Cambridge, MA (617-520-9500; summershackrestaurant.com) and 50 Dalton St., Boston (617-867-9955)
8. James Hook & Co.
Last spring, a fire wiped out this historic downtown lobster/seafood business. It’s already back on its feet, though, using a double-wide trailer to sell to live lobsters, expertly fabricated fish, and no-nonsense lobster rolls. And with no middleman in the picture, JH sells its roll at a wholesale price. For 12 bucks you get bare-bones lobster goodness: Hulky claw and knuckle meat bound by a slightly sweet mayo mixture, mounded into a cold split-top bun. A warm bun would be nice, but it doesn’t matter—the price is right and the lobster is ultra-fresh (be careful not to trip over the lobster traps on the way out the door). 15 Northern Ave., Boston (617-423-5501; jameshooklobster.com)